Last Saturday we held the first live FineCooking.com event – the virtual cookie exchange – and it was so much fun! During the stream we took questions from the online audience, though some of them didn’t get answered. Well, I’ve pulled together some of my favorites to answer in this post. Yes, I know I am a little late, but better late than never!
Question:What is the difference between pastry and all-purpose (AP) flour?
Answer: The difference is the protein content. Pastry flour typically has between 8-9% protein, AP typically has between 10-11%. Although this seems like a small difference, in commercial baking it is huge, but I think this has more to do with process than the actual flour. In commercial baking you are making large batches, which means longer mixing time and thus, more gluten development. The lower protein content of pastry flour means less gluten development. This makes it ideal for cookie and pastry dough, and even quick breads and cakes. I use it for cakes because I like unbleached flour, and you don’t usually find unbleached cake flour (see King Arthur for unbleached cake and pastry flour).
As I stated above, I think the difference is more crucial for commercial applications. Home bakers just have to not go crazy with mixing and they should get similar results with AP flour. Funny thing is, from a commercial standpoint, pastry flour is cheaper because it is generally a lower grade of flour (less protein = lower grade), but pastry flour is more expensive per pound for home bakers. That being said, if you can get it, try it. It definitely makes overmixing a little more difficult to achieve!
Other pastry flours pictured above are available at the following sites:
Question: Many recipes call for all-purpose flour. Do you need to know whether it is bleached or unbleached?
Answer: Flours say right on the package whether they are bleached or unbleached. I believe that the only perceptible difference is the color – bleached is obviously going to give you a whiter product. If you like your white bread white, then buy bleached.
Notice I said the only PERCEPTIBLE difference above. I am sure that many people (including myself) think that unbleached flour has a little better flavor, but I bet you if you made a plain vanilla cake with both and conducted a blind taste test, you would reach the conclusion that there is no taste difference. One thing is for sure, though – I don’t like the idea of eating something that has been treated with a potentially deadly chemical. I stick to unbleached.
Questions: Are there any cookie varieties that don’t freeze well? Is it best to freeze before or after baking?
Answers: My overall answer is freeze dough before baking, then let it thaw in the refrigerator and bake cold – yes, even drop cookies. IF you bake first and freeze later, the lower the water content of the dough, the better off you are. So, cookies with lots of egg or water don’t survive the freezer as well as high fat-low water cookies, at least as far as taste and texture.
Peoples’ perception plays a big role, though. If your cookies look delicious, and the people tasting them are mingling, sipping a glass of wine or eating them at their desks while working, it is not likely that they will notice the difference!
I hope these answers help!
Andy – the BasementBaker